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Forestry Industry Challenges The Gaps In He Waka Eke Noa

Aotearoa’s forestry sector has been committed to a proactive stance in the battle against climate change, since it entered the ETS in 2008. In the fourteen years since then there’s been a lack of real commitment from agriculture to join the fight.

The recent release of He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) offers little hope for change according to the NZ Institute of Forestry (NZIF) President James Treadwell. Treadwell acknowledges forestry and agriculture must, and often do, work side by side. “Agriculture is a material export earner for the nation and its on-going viability and success matters hugely, we also recognise agriculture supports many individual farmers and rural communities.”

“Unfortunately since forestry entered the ETS over a decade ago, we have seen a lot of talk and very little action from agriculture to respond to climate change.” Treadwell adds “This lack of action has compounded the problems New Zealand now faces, and sadly we don’t see HWEN offering any sort of decent roadmap to face the current reality we all must deal with.”

NZIF is calling for the Government to do the right thing for NZ Inc. as a whole. “It’s time to stop buckling to the agricultural sector lobbying, and farmers with a ‘head in the sand’ denial of the real issues.”

Treadwell asks “Where’s the incentive in HWEN for farmers to seek advice or just get on with tree planting? As drafted the HWEN proposals are no help: they’re more of a free pass for agriculture to ignore reality.”

NZIF acknowledges some positives from HWEN. It identifies forests as offset opportunities within farm systems. A positive outcome which will provide some breathing space while farm systems adapt. Treadwell believes it’s exactly the sort of action plan which should have been in place for the last decade.

However, there are some deep rooted issues with HWEN. NZIF find it unacceptable a farmer dominated Board will retain oversight over the HWEN, and in particular future price setting for agriculture emissions. NZIF also believe the proposed levy price, 5-10% of the current market price for an NZU (a tonne of carbon) shows little commitment to climate change. It would also enable farmers to profit from sequestration while paying little for emissions. “A farmer could plant a small area in trees and enter the ETS selling their NZU’s for $70 or more, which under HWEN would enable them to then emit 10 tonnes of carbon for each tone they have sequested. HWEN therefore has the potential to allow agriculture to increase its emissions.”

In the past, the farming sector has claimed it shouldn’t be captured in the ETS because there is inadequate science or options to reduce emissions. But NZIF is calling out this as fake news. “Many leading farmers are demonstrating profitable livestock farming with reduced intensity of stocking and fertiliser. Farmers also have land on which they can plant trees. A portion of their land (circa 10% - 20% depending on farm type) in trees would offset livestock farming emissions.” NZIF believe this denial is no longer an appropriate response. Climate resilience is vitally important for all New Zealanders including farmers.

Forests and wetlands are particularly important in this era of climate change, as they help moderate the impact of severe weather events. Hillsides denuded of forest cover shed more water during intense rainfall events, leading to more extreme flood events downstream, damaging downstream infrastructure, communities, and ecosystems. Forest and wetlands ‘soak-up’ intense rainfall and prevent or at least slow and reduce the impact of flood events. Trees on farms increase soil stability, and livestock welfare (shade and windbreaks). Planting of trees and restoration of natural ecosystems on erosion-prone land, riparian zones, and wetlands in our rural areas needs to be a priority. This will increase carbon sequestration, water quality, and biodiversity values. There should be no argument from the agriculture sector about the need to plant trees on their properties: it’s not just good for NZ Inc. but it will also increase farming profitability.

In the big picture, New Zealand is risking its future and potential reputational damage. Will our overseas consumers of high end “Pure NZ” agricultural produce decide it is no longer so pure? And shop elsewhere? Only time will tell. But the NZ government has the opportunity to address imbalance and accountability around emissions right now.

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